Olympic Hockey Handicapping and the Up & Down Wild

Marc Elliott

2018 USA Womens Olympic Team
2018 USA Womens Olympic Team

STONY RIVER… The 2018 Winter Olympic Games are set to kick off and I am looking forward to them, but I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the Ice Hockey Tournament. On the Women’s side it’s the United States and Canada, the only thing really up for grabs is the 3rd place Bronze Medal. And you can just about figure that Finland or Sweden will be in the running for that. As women’s hockey IS improving, it could be awhile yet before any of the other hockey playing countries other then these four are competitive on the Women’s side. That’s just the way it is right now. If there are only two teams scrapping it out, who gets what? Oddly enough, outside of Olympic competition, the USA has performed quite well. One of the best games I saw last year was the Women’s World Championship tilt won in OT by the USA squad. We compete well against them at The Four Nations and so on, but when it comes to the Games, the USA has had a tough time winning Gold after capturing the first one back in 1998.

What will happen in South Korea? In the Exhibition series last fall, I thought the USA looked to be the better of the two teams early on. As the series went on the edge began to work its way toward our Canadian neighbors. But perhaps the USA team was trying out certain strategies or plays without a focus toward winning, but the Canadians could have been doing that too. So, who knows, the historical nod leans toward the team wearing the Maple Leaf. Six Minnesota athletes have made the Olympic Roster and as always, I’ll be pulling for the Red, White and Blue! Good Luck Girls!!! 

ON THE MEN’S SIDE, this is just one of those Olympic years where it will be hard to get a handle on how the tourney will unfold. We all know that the NHL will not be allowing its players to compete so that certainly skewers who the favorites may or may not be. And according to the Sports Odds experts, they aren’t who you would think they would be. But I’ll get to those in a bit. I spent some time examining the rosters from each country and without the presence of the NHLer’s, there were a lot of names that were new to me. When it came to the “six” hockey playing countries, Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czechs there were many names that I recognized from their past in the NHL or NCAA etc., but in doing so I was reminded that this won’t be a best on best tourney. 

Players of any note on Team Canada are Ben Scrivens/G, Rene Borque/F, Chris Kelly/F and former UMD Bulldog Mason Raymond/F. On Team USA there is David Leggio/G, Brian Gionta/F, James Wisniewski/D and Wild prospect Jordan Greenway/F. You will recall that Russia cannot enter a team under their country name, so they will be there, but they will be called “Olympic athletes from Russia” or something like that I guess. Notable players are Ilya Sorokin/G, Pavel Datsyuk/F, Ilya Kovalchuk/F and the ‘D’ man on “indefinite suspension” from the NHL, Vyacheslav Voynov. For Sweden they will have former NHL netminder Jhonas Enroth, Linus Omark/F, Rasmus Dahlin/D and Viktor Stalberg/F. Team Finland brings Karri Ramo/G, Sami Lepisto/D, as well as NHL prospects Miro Heiskanen/D and Eeli Tolvanen/F. The Czech entry will have recognizable players in Martin Erat/F, Roman Horak/F, Roman Cervenka/F and former Penguin prospect Ondrej Nemec/D. Former WILD forward Richard Park is an assistant Coach on the South Korean team. 

In examining these rosters, one could conclude that these are the types of lineups you would see heading off for the World Championships sans a handful of NHL name players. So, will that be the level of play we might expect from these games? Most likely. And as a result, I am really having a challenging time working up some enthusiasm for these Games. The fact that the NHL won’t be there has changed the equation for me. I suspect that once they begin I’ll be fired up, however… I am also very much looking forward to all of the sledding events and we have a very good chance to Medal in the 2-Woman Bobsled. I can’t wait for that.

Now, the bookmakers in Vegas have been busy looking at the Ice Hockey event and you must remember, when they put out their odds for a sports event, there is always a reason behind that. We might not ever find out what it is, but it’s there. I’ll give you my top six in order of finish, and then I’ll give you their odds. I have; 1. Sweden 2. Russia 3. Finland 4. Canada 5. Czech 6. Team USA. From The Sporting News; Russia 7/4, Canada 3/1, Sweden 7/2, Finland 8/1, Czech Republic 9/1 and Team USA 10/1. Obviously, I would like to see the USA club get a medal but in analyzing the roster I just don’t see an opportunity to do so. I’m trying to be professional about it and without emotion, and I am hoping I’ll be wrong. Good Luck Boys!!! 

THE MINNESOTA WILD giveth, and the WILD taketh away. You have read this before from me, probably to the point that it is making its way to “broken record” territory, but if this club doesn’t make the Stanley Cup tourney this season they will have only themselves to blame. And it is in black & white for all to see. When they utilize their collective talent to put a solid basic game of hockey on the ice they can beat any team in the league. And when they don’t the Cloquet Peewees could rough them up. Last Friday eve in St. Paul they handled the best team in the West, the Vegas Knights, 5-2. The next night in Big ‘D’ they were toasted by the Stars. It was a scoreless standoff until the 8:58 mark of the 2nd period and then 5 minutes and 4 goals later it was over, and it was embarrassing. In my view this was the 6th loss of this type this SEASON. That’s 12 points lost in the standings. How can they go from great performance to these types of losses in 24 hours? I simply don’t know… PEACE

THE ATHLETIC; 17TH on a 55% shot to make the playoffs. THE SAGARIN; 13th on a 28-24 record, 10-10 vs. top ten, 15-15 vs. top 16. NHL STANDINGS by percent of points avail; 14th at a .587%-win pct., 5th in the CENTRAL, 8th and in a WC spot at 61 pts. COL, CAL and ANAH all @ 60 points… OVER & OUT!